Child abuse vs. discipline - What's the difference?
The difference between child abuse and child discipline may seem obvious to most. However, to an inexperienced parent who isn't sure where to draw the line, there may be some confusion. Or to extremists on both sides of the child-rearing fence, there may seem to be no difference. The Bible offers many guidelines and lessons that help to clarify the difference.
Child abuse is just what the words imply. . .abusing a child, sometimes resulting in death. Child abuse consists of anything that endangers or impairs a child's physical or emotional well being and development.
Four categories of abuse are briefly defined:
Adults who go beyond the boundaries of proper discipline to abusive treatment of a child are child abusers. Unfortunately, Child Protection Services report that in 1999 there were 3,244,000 cases of abuse reported. As long as we refuse to seek the guidance, patience, and wisdom that God so willingly provides, this number will continue to climb.
Physical Abuse - Any non-accidental, out-of-control injury.
Sexual Abuse - Any sexual act between adult and child.
Neglect - Failure to provide for the child's physical needs.
Emotional Abuse - Any attitude or behavior interfering with a child's mental or social development, including lack of love.
Child discipline is - in a word - training. God has given parents a duty to train and teach their children appropriate behaviors and actions. The Lord tells us to "train up" our children (Proverbs 22:6). Children are not born knowing how to behave or what is acceptable and expected. In fact, we come into the world as little howling bundles of selfishness. Parents must invest their time, and yes - patience, in training their children, displaying lots of love and modeling exemplary behaviors for their children to mirror. Nobody said the job would be easy!
One ingredient in child discipline is the understanding of consequences. Certain actions involve natural consequences. If a child touches a hot burner, for example, they will get burned. When an action results in pain, we learn pretty quickly not to repeat it. That is common sense.
Then there is an imposed consequence. If Johnny takes baby sister's toys, talk to him and/or give him "time out." He should not be beaten and screamed at for this behavior; he needs to be taught that following our own natural desires is not always the right thing to do. In fact, it is usually not. Imposed consequences help train children in self-discipline.
When we seek Him, the Lord provides us with clarity to know how to properly discipline the children he has given us. He gives us the strength and patience to survive child rearing, if we simply ask. Study His Word; spend time with all the verses about child rearing. Take your children to church; encourage them to develop their own relationship with Christ. Mark 10:14 quotes Jesus saying ". . .Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."
Don't let your frustration and inexperience push you to the edge. If you need help, don't be afraid to ask for it. You're not the first or only person to feel this way and you are not alone. Go to the Lord, your pastor, a Christian counselor or ask them to suggest a good agency that will help you. For your sake and your child's, understand the difference between child discipline and child abuse.
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